NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Crude oil neared the $83-a-barrel mark Wednesday as weekly inventory data showed demand to be better than analysts had anticipated. The Energy Information Administration said crude oil inventories rose by 1 million barrels in the week ended March 12, besting analysts' forecasts for an additional 1.9 million barrels in crude supplies. Inventory data from the American Petroleum Institute came in much lower than expected, as the industry group reported a build of just 403,000 barrels last week. The EIA also reported a 1.7-million barrel decline in gasoline stockpiles, while distillate inventories dropped 1.5 million barrels. Analysts polled by Platts had been expecting drawdowns on both fronts of 1.5 million barrels and 1.6 million barrels, respectively. The April crude contract gained $1.23, or 1.5%, during the session before settling at $82.93 a barrel. The April heating oil contract gained 3 cents, or 1.2%, to settle at $2.14 a gallon, and gasoline for April delivery added 3 cents, or 1.5%, to settle at $2.31 a gallon. The upward move in crude futures got started in the morning after a delegate from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said the assembly would keep production targets unchanged, according to The Associated Press. The 12-nation group, whose countries represent around 55% of global oil exports, was meeting in Vienna on Wednesday. "Indeed, in terms of overall policy stance and ministerial comments, we would expect the market to come to perceive the meeting as having provided another green flag in the gradual and continuing transition to the consolidation of an $80 to $90 per barrel price range," said Barclays Capital analyst Paul Horsnell in a review of weekly oil data. The energy sector helped push the major U.S. indices to new 2010 highs with Exxon Mobil ( XOM) among the Dow's top five performers and Chevron ( CVX) not far behind. Exxon shares gained 1.2%,and Chevron rose 0.9%. Energy shares were up across the sector as the NYSE Arca Oil index improved 1.2%, and the Philadelphia Oil Service Sector index advanced 0.7%. Suncor Energy ( SU) added 2.9%; Marathon Oil ( MRO) gained nearly 2%; BP ( BP) rose 1.7%; and ConocoPhillips ( COP) rose 1.6%.
One of the biggest headlines in the sector came from the coal industry. Massey Energy ( MEE) said it would buy Cumberland Resources late Tuesday for nearly $1 billion. Massey shares soared 5.8%, adding $2.93, to $53.15. The news lifted shares of other coal companies. International Coal Group ( ICO) was up 4.7%, at $4.71; James River Coal ( JRCC) added 3.7% to $17.47; and Patriot Coal ( PCX) gained 1.8% to $20.67. Elsewhere, natural gas for April delivery shed 4 cents, or 1%, to settle at $4.30 per million British thermal units. On Thursday morning, the Energy Information Administration releases natural gas storage levels for the week ended March 12. Analysts polled by Platts are anticipating expect a net withdrawal in the range of 27 to 31 billion cubic feet. --Written by Sung Moss and Melinda Peer in New York.